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B&H pays white workers more

The company relegated Hispanic warehouse workers to separate, unsanitary and often inoperable restrooms.

Brian Young's picture
Feb 26, 2016

The drama at B&H never seems to stop.  UCOMM Blog brought you the harrowing story about how Hispanic workers were being discriminated against at the New York camera institution and how the worker’s lives were put at risk when management refused to let the warehouse employees leave a burning warehouse in Brooklyn.

This week comes word that a discrimination lawsuit has been filed by the Department of Labor, basement warehouse workers at the company’s flagship store have voted to join the United Steel Workers (USW), and the company fired 7 workers who requested a meeting with Human Resources to discuss their treatment and spoke about wanting to join a union.

The lawsuit alleges that white workers were paid more and were more likely to be promoted then Hispanic workers.  It also says that the company “relegated Hispanic warehouse workers to separate, unsanitary and often inoperable restrooms” and directed “racist remarks, degrading comments and harassment” at employees. 

The lawsuit also accused of not providing female employees at its Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse a separate restroom or changing facility and discriminating against black and Asian job-seekers.  More than 2,500 women were not hired because of their gender, and 6,180 blacks and 750 Asians were not hired because of their race, the government alleges. 

Since B&H is a federal contractor, the lawsuit could prove quite costly to the company.  Currently they have $46 million in contracts with the FBI and the General Services Administration.  According to Department of Labor spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said that they tried to rectify the matter with the company prior to filing the lawsuit but the company refused to failed to do so.  He also said that if B&H is found guilty, their Federal contracts could be voided and they could be prevented from gaining contracts in the future. 

“Our employees have played a central role to the success of our business, and that is why we have gone to great lengths to ensure the highest standards for living wages and benefits, workplace safety, and respect and dignity in the workplace,” said B&H spokesperson Harold Posner.

This isn’t the first time that B&H has been sued by Hispanic workers alleging discrimination.  In 2007 they had to pay $4.3 Million to settle a claim by workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse.  As part of that settlement they agreed to raise wages for Hispanic workers and be monitored by federal authorities.  Yet even with monitoring, they have been hit with wage discrimination lawsuits in 2009 and 2011. 

As for the 7 workers who were fired, they claim that they “had requested meetings with B&H Photo human resources, demanding respect and an end to hostile treatment and scare tactics. They expressed their interest in the benefits of a union but were not a part of the group that petitioned for and won the Feb. 23 election,” said a statement from the Laundry Workers Center.  The 7 employees made up the companies entire cleaning staff.   

B&H was also hit last month with a $32,000 fine by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to the inspection details, both warehouses face three “serious” violations — a classification referring to workplace hazards that “could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, unless the employer did not know or could not have known of the violation.” At both sites, OSHA investigators found that certain platforms rising at least four feet above ground did not have guardrails — leaving workers unprotected as they piled merchandise in these areas — and that boxes were stacked without proper stabilization at dangerous heights. Some stored merchandise at the Navy Yard warehouse, the report notes, was stacked approximately 25 feet high. Neither warehouse adhered to proper fire safety codes: at the Navy Yard, investigators noted that portable fire extinguishers were not mounted on walls for easy access but were instead blocked by debris and boxes; at the Evergreen site, they found that exits were not properly marked with exit signs.

“It’s not hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, but what seems like small changes on paper is absolutely a huge victory for workers,” Kristina Mazzocchi, a lawyer advocating for the B&H employees, told Hyperallergic. “We — the workers, the United Steelworkers, the Laundry Workers Center — all think it’s a victory. To have $32,000 in fines, that’s nothing to laugh at.”

According to the United Steel Workers, contract talks are underway for their two bargaining units.

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